A Park Bench
Over the last several months I hit a bottom, probably not The Bottom, but a true and new bottom for me… an immobilizing of my heart, passion, soul, relationships and spirit. I feared my state. I could share the back story but that’s not the story. This is the story…
I’m at my desk on the computer trying to paddle upstream without a paddle and accomplish something that would bring a little relief or validation to my soul when a Staff Member steps in to say something about something and disrupts my "Sisyphean challenge" to accomplish anything that might pass as a contribution to the ministry of Ransomed Heart.* I think she was sent by God to pierce the fog of my life and leave behind some sort of a “grace-bomb” with a fuse set to go off two minutes after she exited. She exited and before I could re-enter my striving to be fruitful, I had an unsolicited and seemingly random vision or picture from God.
Here it is…
I’m sitting on a park bench stretched out like a warped board slouched with my legs extended out in front of me and my head resting on the bench’s back railing. It’s a beautiful park with large grassy areas separated by a walkway slaloming between huge mature shade trees. I’m checked out, not really present staring off straight ahead over the horizon at nothing. Though I’m cognizant of my surroundings there is no conscious thought. I was in that state in which you don’t ever wink or swallow, there’s no measurable brain activity and barely a pulse… you are alive but not present. That’s me!
Somehow this old bench is bearing all my weight and the shit-load of all that’s weighing on me. I am certifiably detached from life.
It’s mid-day and there’s a warm breeze blowing just enough to rustle the leaves of the Cottonwood that’s shading me. The scene cries summer with the air full of pollen, gnat tornadoes and the musty scent of fresh cut grass. In the background is the sound of sprinklers machine gunning water over a flower bed… chit-chit-chit-chit-chitachitachitchit. Straight ahead, a little to the left, is an old park table with four young women enjoying their Grande coffees and the reunion they’re having. To the right is a young brother and sister on their bikes playing some form of follow the leader where the leader tries to lose the follower (kinda of like the Pastor I worked under at a Southern California Mega-Church). Almost 90 degrees to my left a bunch of pigeons are trying to enforce a clear pecking order while scrambling to eat a handful of feed someone threw out for them.
I’m taking this all in but unmoved by any of it. It’s clinical; I’m an observer of life but not a participant in it.
As my vision pans right, back from the birds to resume my vigilant dazed and confused gape I notice or sense something peripherally… right next to me.
It’s a person. I can’t hide my being startled by this out-of-no-where stranger who’s suddenly sitting eight inches from me on our shared little bench.
It’s a man, an older man with weathered but not leathered skin. Actually it’s God.
Oh my God, it is God! I don’t know how I knew, but I knew (it’s kinda like living in Los Angeles and passing one of a gazillion Mexican restaurants… you intuitively know that this one serves a great combination plate though you’ve never seen it, been in it or heard of it. You just know!).
Now this whole picture/vision seemed to be unfolding in a millisecond and in the next millisecond I notice my bench friend, The One True and Eternal, Just and Holy, Powerful and All Knowing God hasn’t yet said a word or even made eye contact with me. Furthermore, like me, he is slouched and staring straight ahead. And then I notice there’s a tear forming and then falls from the corner of his eye.
Huh… he’s very human, common… real. Fully God truly man.
One of the things that struck me as odd throughout this picture or vision is that my posture doesn’t change, I don’t sit up straight on the bench or fall on my face… my demeanor and countenance remain the same. Though God is stretched out eight inches from me I am, outwardly unfazed! Equally as unexpected is that he’s un animated, silently slouched on a park bench apparently killing time. If you were to have walked by us and seen us you may have muttered under your breath the commentary, “Get a life!”
There we were, the two of us sharing a bench for what felt like hours with nothing said, no eye contact… just sitting and staring off into nowhere.
His tear and silence were the most stunning part of the picture. He didn’t say anything?!
He was silent and that was okay. That he said nothing said so much. He was just there, next to me… with me... and I was in his presence and... he’s crying.
He was silent, but his tears said everything. From his tear I knew that He knows all that I’m facing: the losses and pain; the struggles and terrors; my failures and ache to live and love well. I could tell He knew, and knowing that he knew everything about me, my life and this season… brought a tear to his eye. He’s crying with me, for me, over me. The tear is everything!
He didn’t offer affirmation with deeply validating words, “Craig, you have lived so well in this difficult season. Well done my son… you’re so on the right track… I love you! Keep it up”. That he didn’t offer that seemed to say I didn’t need it. Wow!
He didn’t call me out either. There was no exposing of another deeply rooted profoundly governing historic and systemic sin that explains my struggle to live and love well from a heart of true adoration and worship of God. That he didn’t go there seemed to say so much. So, so very much. Apparently there was something more important than going over all of that.
I cannot explain all this picture/vision of God and I sharing a park bench meant and had for me, but a mere moment in the presence of God felt as if time stood still… It was as if I was in his presence for hours and hours. And in those moments everything lifted.
In his presence I was in a zero-gravity-of-the-soul state. The poundage, burden, pressure… the crushing of heart, soul, spirit and desire was lifted. There was no sin; no idolatry or fear; no loss or tears: every desire we have in life-this-side-of-heaven was gone… the longings and groaning for life and all we were created to have were, in his presence satisfied. Nothing lacking, nothing missing, nothing wanted… nothing but pure, full, expansive and deep satisfaction, joy… life itself is what I had in his presence. The whole “My burden is light” thing made sense for the first time ever.
With the weight I carry, that you carry, lifted we can breathe, live, laugh, worship, dance, love… In his presence is life, everything changes because you are in His presence.
Well, as it always does in the here-and-now the picture, the vision these moments with God transitioned... it ended and I was sitting alone in my broken desk chair like any man whom God has visited. Stunned, surprised, wanting to fall on my face in worship… I spent the next hour and then hours over the next week unpacking the beauty, power, affirmation, hope and life of these moments.
Almost immediately I was aware that while nothing had changed with my life everything had changed with life.
My cancer hasn’t disappeared, nor the anger a couple dozen people have so powerfully expressed toward me, my pesky neighbor hasn’t moved, the financial issues remain, my internal battle of withdrawing continues, an old friend still prefers being an ex-friend and my freaking car is now acting up. Nothing has changed with difficult circumstances and challenging relationships of my life.
But having been on that bench and experiencing all that comes in being in his presence I have been introduced to something very new, though I’ve probably taught it eloquently for years... Being in the presence of God changes everything. Everything!
You do not see life the same, in his presence. The very, very real troubles of life look very, very different in his presence. Somehow, in his presence worry, fear, hatred, weakness and pain cannot exist. You see yourself most clearly in his presence. Everything I yearn for in a world that is so violent, parched, deceptive and unforgiving is found in the presence of God. (I have often sought God’s words, voice, counsel, understanding, guidance and validation. Each of those are valid and necessary pursuits to go to God with. What’s new for me, in this season is to simply pursue him and all the other things will be taken care of).
I can't tell you where I spend most of my time but it isn't in the presence of God... I can tell you that one moment on a park bench with him is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Oh God, extend the times we're together.
- Craig McConnell
* Note: Some of my best friends have an eye for grammar that I lack. While I may leave them breathless, at times, from my inclination for run-on sentences, I still maintain that a good winding is a legitimate literary style.